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In Appreciation: Katharine G. Butler

by Geraldine Wallaxch
written by
Katharine Butler

Katharine Gorell Butler, 1978 and 1996 ASHA president, died on June 17, 2019, at age 94, in Monterey, California.

The world became a less dynamic and interesting place on June 17. One of the most influential, respected, and loved people in our field passed away in Monterey, California, leaving behind a legacy that will endure through her ever-present spirit and through all of us who were fortunate enough to bask in her light for a brief time.

Katharine G. Butler, known simply as Kay, will be sorely missed. For many of us in the speech and language world, Kay was nurturer-in-chief who provided the push we needed to leave her protective professional and personal nest. In Kay’s unique, forward-looking style, she taught us to break traditions that needed to be broken, to “fight the good fight” in language-learning disabilities and the expanding role of speech-language pathologists in literacy. Kay took on many issues before they became issues. She had an amazing ability to look beyond the curve in the road and figure out what the next challenge might be, how it might present itself, and what to do about it. Elizabeth Bates so eloquently reminded us about a decade ago that Kay “put the language into the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association” title. Taking on leadership roles in the field, as president of ASHA twice (1978–1979 and 1996–1997) and as president of the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Kay was a teacher, researcher, writer, editor, administrator, and mentor extraordinaire. Kay was a fearless advocate for the people we serve and a guardian of innovative clinical ideas.

Born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, on March 15, 1925, Kay attended Miami University of Ohio, where she met her future husband, Joseph Franklin Butler (Joe). Married in 1943,  they settled in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they would have their three children, Kathy, Andy, and Paul. Kay earned a master’s degree from Western Michigan University and a doctorate from Michigan State University before moving to San Jose, California, in 1964. Amassing a curriculum vita with hundreds of publications, presentations and various creative projects, including producing educational videos, Kay held professorships at Western Michigan University, San Jose State University, and Syracuse University. As with all things Kay, several of her texts through the early 1980s and 1990s were ahead of their time in the area of language disorders and learning disabilities. Kay is credited with popularizing the use of the term language-learning disabilities (LLD) to make the connections between language disorders and learning disabilities more explicit. In 1980, Kay founded the well-respected and influential journal, Topics in Language Disorders, a theme-based publication that remains a “go-to” choice for researchers and clinicians alike.

A Renaissance woman, Kay did it all: wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; gourmet cook; world traveler; and colleague and friend who helped us become better people. Kay is survived by her sons, Andy and Paul, nine grandchildren, seven great grandchildren, her son-in-law Clyde and her daughter-in-law Cindy. A most amazing goddess, as some of us liked to call her, she has made a difference on so many levels. We continue to hear her words of encouragement as we take the road less-traveled.

Geraldine P. Wallach, PhD, CCC-SLP, is professor emerita, Department of Speech-Language Pathology, California State University, Long Beach. coronacape@aol.com


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